School Strike 4 Climate: history, challenges and what’s next

A stop Adani protest in Sydney on February 17.

After the milestone School Strike 4 Climate (SS4C) rallies on November 30 last year, the movement faces a critical point.

Describing itself as a “decentralised, grassroots and ambitious” activist organisation, SS4C has certainly breathed fresh energy into the climate debate. However, with its second major action looming, where does it go from here?

One positive to emerge immediately following the November strike was the collective enthusiasm for maintaining participation in direct action.

Rather than resting on its laurels after so spectacularly mobilising more than 15,000 students in 30 cities and towns in Australia — with barely a month’s notice — SS4C has kept itself busy in continuing to push for “real climate action”.

From appearances in the media and small-scale protests at politicians’ offices, to writing articles and starting environment clubs at schools, it is clear that the movement has inspired a new generation of activists. It is truly an inspiring sight to see so many young people talking about radical ideas — not just in classrooms, but on the streets as well.

The greater time available for planning this second strike has allowed for the adoption of a more holistic approach towards organising. The organising structures adopted have allowed SS4C to retain its uniquely local and bottom-up approach to activism, while including differing voices through participatory democracy and consensus decision making.

One of the aspects of the new organising structure is SS4C’s outreach work. As Partnerships Convenor, I have been responsible for making contact with community organisations and asking them to lend their support for the strike.

University student and trade unions have constituted the bulk of our outreach. Student representative councils across the country have formally endorsed the rally. Unions have passed supportive motions, recognising that climate change is “the product of inequality, with 70% of the world’s global emissions perpetrated by the world’s 100 largest companies” and that “it will have the biggest impact on working-class people and developing nations”.

This solidarity is vital for the sustainability of SS4C. It shows there is broad backing of the students and that wide-scale mass action is the only way to effectively counter the power and influence of the fossil fuel industry.

Left-wing organisers like me have certainly recognised the need for intersectionality within the movement. After all, the people who pollute the planet are the same people who drive down wages, restrict workers’ rights and continue to augment the already-exorbitant costs for higher education, a fundamental human right.

This sort of approach, however, has not been universal. Like any broad front focused on a certain issue, there are also moderate and cautious tendencies. This has been principally manifested through the hostility of certain students towards the organised Left. Backed by the notoriously hesitant Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC), some organisers have put forward concerns about the “different agendas” of political parties such as Socialist Alliance and Socialist Alternative, as well as their potential to “take away energy from SS4C itself”.

Such rhetoric is, of course, contradictory. Dozens of students involved with SS4C are members of these political parties and to act with such hostility towards such organisations is in fact denying students their agency to partake in an autonomous way. The political neutrality of SS4C is ostensibly positive, as this prevents endorsement of Labor or Greens candidates in an overly-parliamentarist way. However, it also risks the depoliticisation of the movement, claiming that climate change is “not a political goal” and something that “goes beyond Left vs Right”. It appears that many would rather turn their back on organisations offering wholehearted support than face potential fearmongering from a critical Murdoch media article. 

A substantial proportion of the students involved in the organisation come from wealthier backgrounds, are based in inner-city areas and attend private schools. Their lack of willingness to engage and reach out to working-class kids in outer suburbs (such as Dandenong in my case), combined with the tendency to resort to centrist maxims, is a significant issue that SS4C will have to overcome if it wants to be truly serious about creating a movement that does not simply satisfy the feel-good aspirations of well-off liberals with a social conscience.

SS4C has three overarching demands:

  1. Stopping the Adani coalmine in Queensland.
  2. Phasing out all coal and gas.
  3. Transitioning to 100% renewable energy by 2030.

For an organisation that is less than a year old, this is a fantastic start. Only time will tell, however, whether SS4C becomes yet another feeble NGO concerned with tokenism, or becomes a truly revolutionary mass movement.

[Leo Crnogorcevic is a Year 12 student, Socialist Alliance member and School Strike 4 Climate organiser]